I didn’t really want to attempt a list of my favourite albums of the decade – the list for this year alone was more work than I needed. Instead, I decided to hit some of the ways this decade dealt with music – how technology has changed the musical landscape further, what globalized capitalism has done to the music industry, and what media convergence did to help out. Then as a second part, I thought I should add some of my musings on the decade as far as my own musical development goes – after all, I became an adult in the 00s.
Once you’re done here, visit this excellent site put up by The Indelicates: The Noughties Were Shit. The post about Gary Barlow poised to take over the world was particularly enlightening.
1. Web 2.0 and Music
I suppose this point actually affects all the other points in one way or another. Technology has continued the major upheaval begun in the 90s with MP3s and Napster, and has now proved there is no going back for the music industry. The MP3 file has changed the nature of music and the way it is consumed in a completely McLuhanesque fashion. It made music infinitely clonable and portable, aspects which led to the rise of the iPod and the spectacular decline of the record industry. Now music is disjointed and serendipitous by shuffle functions while being omnipresent and essentially valueless (at least in the capitalistic sense). The MP3 has shown us what art becomes when it is immediate and free.
Whilst Napster and its variations like LimeWire created the new rhizomatic gift-giving structure in MP3 file sharing, torrents have taken it to a whole new level of decentralization. And now 99% of the music/films/TV you want is up for the taking. This fact in tandem with the rise of online shopping makes me quite surprised that all record shops haven’t just folded, although many of them have in this decade.
The advancements of Web 2.0 have also heralded the birth of the MP3 blog and its attendant aggregators and podcasts. It has become ludicrously easy to set up your own blog and utilize free file transfer/storage sites to upload music for others to sample. The upshot has been a severe fragmentation of markets and escalation of taste wars while also a fantastic break from traditional music press. And in spite of a nasty rash of Blogger DMCA takedown notices, there have also been some really positive outcomes that proved the power of fandom, including this year’s Paul Haig Day, which was arranged by JC of The Vinyl Villain. Arguments over intellectual property and copyright laws in a digital world will continue to rage on, and I will follow them with fascination (who better to keep you posted on things of this nature but Cory Doctorow and his team at Boing Boing). Of course, no doubt MP3 blogs will suffer/are suffering the same fate as all countercultures. If you survive long enough, you end up as part of the establishment. It’s a bit Batman that way.
As we increasingly became a “peep culture,” social networking came into the forefront with sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and last.fm. You could define yourself strictly by taste and choose your “friends” accordingly. And then ignore them in real life. Just as importantly, now any band could have a website with minimal work and funding. They could also market themselves directly to the type of people they conceived as fans through as many channels as possible. Combined with the technological capabilities of recording software, anyone could produce and market their own music, which is good and bad. Bands who wouldn’t have made it on a mainstream label, but who had a cult sound worth hearing, could get their music our there; unfortunately, many more mediocre bands clogged up the Internet with their soul-sucking tripe, making it a hard slog through cyberspace to find the music you actually liked.
The Internet imploded the world into solipsistic niches, which ceased to feel the collectiveness of mass-mediated moments. Even news of Michael Jackson’s death shattered into millions of pieces as everyone wanted to be the one reporting rather than receiving. Live 8 couldn’t be what Live Aid was to the 80s. The global village is taken for granted and too much access to information and entertainment has made us fairly lazy and impatient. Is music still the universal language? I suppose so, but it’s also become something to be hoarded and collected indiscriminately, as meaningful as soundbites for many people. And with music built directly into communication devices, it has become integrated into our fragmented lifestyles.
The Medium is the Music: An Essay on Digital Music
This Is the Industry, But For How Long?: Thoughts on the State of Music Today
Of Resurrected FOPP and the Importance of a Real Record Shop
MP3 Blogs vs. Music Blogs: Different Purposes?
Has the World Changed Or Have I Changed?: Musings on the New Musical Express Train to Nowhere
MP3 Blogs vs Music Blogs: Part II
iTunes & I
Does NME even know what a music blog is?: The rhetoric and social meaning of MP3 blogs
The Pirate’s Dilemma: Selling Out is the New Cool
Sound the Last Post, Then Unite and Take Over
New IAMX Album Leaks and Chris Corner Reacts
Twitter-Pated: Music and Information Overload
Michael Jackson, Media Convergence and The Decline of the Global Superstar
A Monkey Wrench in The Hype Machine: Music Marketing and Integrity
Everyone’s a Critic: Fandom and Subculture
The Non-Interview: Music PR in the Blogosphere
2. Fan Investment in Musicians
In a rather positive turn of events, it has now become possible for fans to have a direct impact on the musicians they love by investing in albums before they are produced. Artists, including Einstürzende Neubauten, Patrick Wolf, frYars, and Morton Valence, have allowed their fans to buy shares of future albums to fund production costs. These artists have then rewarded their shareholders with various freebies and exclusives along with a right to some of the record’s profit. It cuts out the label middleman, which I think is a step in the right direction.
Some other bands decided that more was definitely more and added further value to their music and ethos by diversifying their art. One of my favourite discoveries of the decade, The Indelicates, have sold books of their poetry, tickets to a musical they’re involved in, art prints, and even fudge. This rather multidisciplinary approach to music is fantastically refreshing and holds fans’ interest while waiting for new album releases.
With a different twist on the new value of music, Radiohead decided to make their In Rainbows album available for whatever you deemed it should be worth this decade. Although it’s quite a forward-thinking idea, it isn’t exactly as feasible for bands who are not called Radiohead.
3. Decline of the Music Video
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, the music channel played mostly music videos, live performances or interviews with musicians. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what music channels play anymore, but I know it’s not really music. It’s not even like they’re playing the expected mass-marketed tripe that I would expect on a music station; they’re playing teen dramas about rich kids, reality shows about rich kids, and programs about kids competing to become celebrities, and thus rich. I reckon the marketing model for music has changed quite drastically since the 80s and their MTV heyday; as with much advertising now, products need to be more quietly and deeply entrenched in other products to be marketed effectively. No more blatant streams of music videos/ads for bands. Now you just have to make sure your music gets into the television shows and films of your target market. You want disaffected indie kids, get your music on a film like Garden State. You want romantic emo kids, get your music on the latest vampire product. You want to appeal to the shallow emotions of middling women with no imagination, play your song in a particularly heartwrenching scene of Grey’s Anatomy. Or you could just get Apple to use your music in an iPod promo.
YouTube, which started up four years ago (as unbelievable as that seems), changed the television landscape forever (along with DVD box sets of course). You could now watch music videos literally on demand and without other ads in between. Albeit the halcyon days of YouTube are also over and not every music video is available, nor are they ad-free anymore thanks to the Google takeover. And artists like Prince decided fans are the enemy, prohibiting any of his videos to be uploaded anywhere. However, YouTube has led to a new music video experience, which frees up the music video market for bands who would never have had the clout to get on a television screen. And YouTube sensations could cross into the consciousness of television watchers, which is what happened when OK Go performed their Here It Goes Again video routine for the MTV VMAs.
I Don’t Want My MTV. The Tweens Can Have It.
If a Gallagher Falls in the Forest, and No One is There to Film It…
Not Down With Prince
A Post-Mortem on Patrick Wolf’s Dead Meat: Music Video For Vulture
4. The Transformed, But Nonetheless Continued Presence of Diabolical Disney Music
The latter half of the 90s saw the massive return on Disney’s investment in ostensibly squeaky-clean popstars, who were raised in their Mickey Mouse Club stables like cute, little, doe-eyed cash calves. These were the years when Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and NSYNC were royalty. And just when we all thought they had gone away to morph into the realms of crasser sexuality, we were hit with High School Musical, Hannah Montana and The Jonas Brothers. And they went global. Disney was no longer ubiquitous because of their animated projects, but because they had tapped into the tween market once again. This time, they made sure they used media convergence to its extreme. What these franchises also appeared to be espousing was the doctrine of the 00s: anyone could be a pop star. And they should start early.
5. The Reality Pop Star
It seems difficult to remember a time when there weren’t reality competition shows, especially the Pop Idol/X-Factor-types. Now it’s big business for the advertisers who slap their products and commercials into the programs, and usually brief big business just as an “idol” releases his/her debut album. Then he/she usually fades back into the obscurity from whence he/she came, and the cycle begins again, neatly representing our superficial, throwaway culture while making regular people think they’re entitled to more than they actually are. And all along the way, we had to stare at Simon Cowell’s smug, stump-like head.
6. Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands
Along with the wave of reality celebrity culture, video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band also made it seem like everyone could be a star. And so we all learned what it was like when air guitar was dumbed down to a series of coloured buttons. I’m not being that critical – it’s more the bitterness seeping out from the fact I still haven’t learned how to play the acoustic guitar I got for Christmas two years ago and the fact I don’t own any video game systems.
7. The Renaissance of Vinyl
Here’s something we should have seen coming. As music grew less and less tangible, and thus, less and less valuable, music fans started looking for ways in which they could get more out of music when paying for it. CDs are pretty obsolete because they offer nothing more than MP3s, which are either rather cheap or free. Vinyl records, on the other hand, offer an entirely different listening experience, and one that cannot be replicated unless you have the capability of producing your own vinyl (not likely). Not only is the sound of analog warmer, but vinyl records also allow you to focus more on albums as wholes, including the larger scope for artwork. Vinyl records aren’t meant to be transportable media; they’re meant to be tied to a particular spot and require a different sort of listening. There was a time when I could only buy used vinyl unless I was in Europe or ordering from Europe; now I can buy brand new vinyl records on the Canadian Amazon shop and in several shops in the city. I hope this trend continues.
8. Concert-Going in the 21st Century and Ticket-Touting
Along with the online revolution in music came the rather unfortunate rise of online ticket purchasing. No one lines up nor phones ticket lines anymore for gigs. If you don’t have a high-speed Internet connection and presale passwords, you either won’t get a decent ticket to your favourite artist’s show, or you’ll have to pay extortionary prices on auctions to ticket touters or the original ticket highwaymen themselves, like Ticketmaster. Or you may just die of a heart attack in the process. It’s why I favour rush seating gigs, where the spot you get is directly proportional to your leg strength, ability to combat boredom, and sharpness of elbow. What would you need to get a seat in the first to third rows at a seated gig anymore? It’s not a rhetorical question – I would really love to know.
9. Comedy and Music Became a Cooler Combination Again
This was the decade in which musical comedy duos like The Mighty Boosh and Flight of Conchords gained ascendence. There’s no shortage of older acts that made music funny and comedy musical (Monty Python and Spinal Tap spring to mind), but it’s nice to know that it all gained a surreal airing in the 00s. While both duos are in uncertain places as the decade closes (The Mighty Boosh haven’t said they’ll ever do another series and Flight of the Conchords said they definitely won’t), they provided me with many of my laughs in the last half of the noughties, and many of my catchphrases, too. The duos were delightfully different: The Mighty Boosh was like an intertextual acid mixture of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa with increasingly more London hipster thrown in, and Flight of the Conchords was like a monotone chameleon, able to capture any musical genre perfectly while delivering hapless adventure after hapless adventure.
10. Re-Packaging and Re-Fadding: Emo and the (Yawn) Ensuing Moral Panic and Mark Ronson and the (Yawn) Retro Revival
This decade saw the transmogfrication of the genre called emo into something more than merely Sunny Day Real Estate and Dashboard Confessional. If you want a decent history of the subculture (well at least up until 2003), read Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. By the end of this decade, emo had come to mean some adolescent subculture obsessed with gothy aesthetics, poppy but melodramatic music, and self-harm. And probably vampires. What’s odd is how we got from emotional hardcore music to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance in the matter of a few years. In the end, emo is just goth repackaged for the ADD digital generation. Gone are the gloomy dirges and swirling sadness of bands like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil; now boys in eyeliner can play pop-punk with extremely long, but no more intellectually stimulating, titles and somehow unite the outsiders in their identical floppy fringey skunk haircuts. Ultimately, emo has come to mean goth lite, which can be easily marketed.
As with all teenage subcultures that adults don’t understand and which get seized upon by the media, emo suffered a strange moral panic by the latter half of the noughties. Parents were nonsensically alarmed at the propensity for self-harm amongst these dissatisfied angsty teens, and for the love of all that is sacred on this Earth, why did they have to stand out from their peers like that? At the end of the day, Morrissey and Richey Edwards would have been emo, but luckily for them, they escaped the tawdry tag before it became popular. People still don’t understand me, but I’m not going to cry about it.
On the other end of the spectrum, another bizarre revival occurred: retro brass sounds, largely the responsibility of Mark Ronson. With Amy Winehouse stumbling in tow and any number of celebrity guests covering songs for him (God forbid Ronson have an original song), this self-satisfied producer added horns to everything and was proclaimed a genius. Bumping along on his bandwagon of manure, were singers like Duffy and Adele. Singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal (I wrote about him here) expresses the Mark Ronson phenomenon better than I ever could:
Oh, I’m the coolest man in all of the land
And all my friends are famous
And all my songs are bland
I’m akin to a thief
Like yoyos, I’ll be a fad
For I take quite good songs
And I make them bad
And I don’t know if I’m English or American
And if I can win a Brit Award, then anyone bloody can
I’m a glorified DJ
A riches to riches story
I borrow from the talented and I take all the glory
They say anyone’s grandma could do what I do
By putting a different drumbeat on it
And adding a few trumpets, too
But they don’t have my panache
And they don’t have my celebrity mates
And if I ever get round to writing a song,
God, it will be great
The other day I was asked
If I had a motto
I said yes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know
I’m living proof you don’t need talent to succeed
I’m the George Bush of music
I’m the Prince of the Thieves
Now to my own personal experience of the decade. I should start off by saying that I found it hard to believe it had already been a whole decade – something that it seems most people haven’t noticed nor been too fussed about (aside from one two-part program on the BBC, I haven’t seen all that many retrospectives of this decade). It’s hard to fathom that, at the turn of this millennium, I graduated from high school. That makes these last ten years (supposedly) the most productive part of my life thus far: I got several degrees/diplomas from post-secondary education, I travelled more than I ever had before, I learned much more about the world and about this thing we call humanity, I read books I never thought existed, I got crap retail jobs and finally a proper grown-up job, I made friends, I lost friends, and most importantly of all, I expanded my love of music beyond anything I had in high school. When I think about it, this decade actually quite demarcated my life between adolescence and adulthood (the arbitrary age being seventeen/eighteen years old). For me, this decade was truly one of self-discovery and self-creation. With the same tenacity and interest that I applied to my academic studies, I dove into a music world that I hadn’t been acquainted with through high school (my exposure was generally confined to music television and Top 40 radio). Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many muso friends growing up – in fact, the majority of my friends had very limited taste in music. And my immediate family didn’t really encourage music – my father was the only one who had any sort of musical leanings. So, when I was seventeen, I started the search on my own, equipped with reams of music magazines, books, and new CDs. I didn’t have a computer at home until I started university, and I didn’t have cable Internet access until a few years ago; these facts made my search for music a much slower affair than it might have been, but perhaps it also made it more meaningful.
My magpie ways led me on a winding path that had me appreciating political and intelligent music; the first two bands that I really embraced after high school were The Clash and The Smiths. I absorbed a bit of musical influence from college peers and co-workers, but still made the journey largely on my own, trekking in my spare periods between university courses to the downtown A&B Sound shop and buying copious amounts of CDs to listen to whilst sitting in the university corridors (as all good shops appear to do in this city, A&B Sound closed its doors several years ago and became yet another retail husk in the downtown area). I bought up classics from The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Kate Bush, Wire, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, alongside newer releases from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Stars, Bloc Party, Idlewild, British Sea Power, and We Are Scientists. I started going to more and more live gigs. And the more I travelled over to the UK and lived there, the more I realized my preference for British bands. The last few trips saw me fill my suitcase and bag with CDs and vinyl.
I listened and I learned – to some people who know me, I became the Rain Man of music. I discovered I’ll never enjoy rap nor metal music. I discovered that I’ll always dislike Bob Dylan. I discovered how much lyrics meant to me. Music made me a more fully-rounded person and a happier person; it supplemented the myriad views of the world that I had also been gaining with books. It gave me something to cling to emotionally and it gave me something I could share with others. And it inspired me creatively. For me, MP3 blogs via The Hype Machine came within the last four years of the decade, and they opened my mind even further to more independent artists, and to the power of fans and DIY culture. Finally, there was something I could do that would allow me to write regularly (I gave up on the dream of a full-time occupation as a writer long ago), and it might even be read by others. Two years ago, when I started writing this blog, I was exposed to even more music and more people, and it was a fascinating learning experience as it became neccessary to try to articulate my thoughts and feelings about music (vigorously pirouetting and waltzing about architecture) and to attain a dialogue with some of the artists I wrote about.
In fact, when I tried to look back at the decade and what it offered in terms of music, I found it rather difficult because I spent a large part of the decade discovering older artists that I had missed out on. I returned to punk, glam, New Wave/post-punk, krautrock, folk, shoegaze, electronica, C86, synthpop, and many of the hyphenated hybrids in between. The only artists salvaged from my adolescent years were David Bowie, New Order, The Cure, Prince, Pulp, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran, and a few other sundry 80s artists.
When I do actually try to put some perspective on the music that was released in the noughties, it becomes a bit astonishing just how many bands that I take for granted made their debuts. The decade seemed to begin with a violent shift from plastic pop, including boy bands and pop tarts, to legitimate musicians playing their own music, including The Strokes, The Libertines, The White Stripes, and The Hives.
A few years into the decade, the second-wave Brit Invasion happened with bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Keane, Maximo Park, Razorlight, The Rakes, The Delays and The Futureheads (to varying degrees of success and longevity). And the most pernicious of all invaders was Coldplay. When I first saw their video for Yellow over in the UK about eight years ago, I never would have guessed their eventual U2-like world domination. And then came the Arctic Monkeys, which seemed like the messiahs people were waiting for after the sloppy, pathetic demise of The Libertines. I enjoyed their first album, but never really went further with them. Then again, a lot of the bands I first liked in the noughties turned out like that.
Along with this British surge in indie bands, I became more aware of Canadian indie artists, which largely coalesced around the Montreal scene. As music press is wont to do, the journalists hailed the largest city in Quebec as the new hotbed of musical activity somewhere in the middle of the 00s (just as they had done with Manchester in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s, and Brooklyn now). The world took note of bands like The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, and suddenly bands with sprawling orchestras were in vogue. I also duly took note of these bands and Stars, which led me to other Canadian bands like The New Pornographers, Hexes & Ohs, Allegories, The Rest, Archivist, The Dears, Metric, Death From Above 1979, The Stills, and many more.
It also seemed Sweden became increasingly adept at producing dreampop bands, each sweeter than the last, and I fell for The Radio Dept., The Mary Onettes, Twig, The Sound of Arrows, The Deer Tracks, Twiggy Frostbite, and Club 8 to name a few.
Additionally, I will remember the decade as the period that introduced Modular Recordings to a wider audience. Though the Australian label was founded in 1998, it really took off with a multitude of Australian electronic acts like Cut Copy, Van She, and The Presets, along with releases from Wolfmother and Bumblebeez. Along similar lines, this decade saw the formation of Kitsuné Music, a French electronic music record label, and at around the same time, Get Physical Music, a Berlin-based label releasing similar music, was established. New York’s DFA Records also came into being at the beginning of this decade. Between these four labels I developed a deeper love for electronic music.
There are too many bands that began their careers in the noughties to list here. Instead, I’ll just put up a handful of tracks that will always remind me of the first ten years of the 21st century (the restriction being that these bands had to have debuted in the 00s.
This is it for me for now. I realize that the Day of 200 Songs still needs to be done, but we’ll see how quickly I can get it out there. It might be some time next week.